the observer Sat 11 April 2009
Vivien Kovacs's childhood is a near-vacuum, "a quarter-century of hibernation" in a London flat with her withdrawn Jewish-Hungarian parents, whose only interests are work and the TV schedule. Her one brief glimpse of a larger world comes when her uncle Sandor appears at the front door in "an electric blue mohair suit", carrying an enormous Toblerone for his niece. Within months, he is in prison, having turned out to be a violent slum landlord and pimp. Vivien is in her twenties before a chance encounter sucks her back into her uncle's life, uncovering the hypocrisies behind his reputation and her parents' silence. Shortlisted for last year's Booker prize, this is not just an intriguing story and characters: the politically restless London of the 70s is drawn with artful subtlety.
the observer Sun 09 November 2008
Vivien Kovaks spends her childhood in Marylebone's claustrophobic Benson Court, an apartment block in which almost all the inhabitants are elderly. Outside, the strains of a Rolling Stones gig signal the swinging Sixties. Inside, her first-generation immigrant Jewish-Hungarian parents keep their minds and their doors closed. Turning to her glamorous and wicked Uncle Sandor to reveal the mysteries of her past, Vivien learns uncomfortable truths about the relatives who disappeared 'up the chimney'. Grant's characters are so richly drawn that they tell the story themselves, particularly the wonderfully bold central figure of Sandor, based on slum landlord Peter Rachman. The motif of this Booker-shortlisted novel is the clothes we inhabit, with all their transformative properties.